When watching football games you may have noticed penalties called only for the ref to say the “tight end was covered up ” or the “receiver was covered up”.
The trouble is the vast majority of fans do not know what the officials are saying when they make this call.
In short a covered receiver is a penalty that is called for an illegal formation, specifically for having too many players on the line of scrimmage.
Only the furthest outside player lined up on line of scrimmage is an eligible receiver. If you are on the line of scrimmage and the receiver outside of you is on the line of scrimmage then you are covered up.
As you can see in the image above the wide receiver on the left side of the formation is covered. This is because both receivers on the left side of the formation are lined up on the line of scrimmage.
Since only the outside players lined up on the line of scrimmage can be eligible, the inside wide receiver in the image above is ineligible.
In this image, the receiver has now moved into a position that is uncovered. The difference between the two images is that the inside receiver on the left side of the formation has moved off the line of scrimmage.
Moving off the line of scrimmage makes this a legal formation making the inside receiver eligible.
On any given play the offense is to have at least seven players on the line of scrimmage. Five of these players are going to be offensive linemen. The other two being receivers with one receiver on the line of scrimmage on each side of the formation.
The other receivers on the field must remain one yard behind the line of scrimmage. This is why you will notice that the slot receiver and one of the outside receivers will usually be one foot from the line of scrimmage meaning they are not covered up.
This penalty is called when eligible receivers on the same side of the formation are on the line of scrimmage.
Say there is an outside receiver on the line of scrimmage and the tight end is also on the line of scrimmage. This would make the tight end covered.
Say an outside receiver is on the line of scrimmage and a slot receiver on his side of the field is on the line of scrimmage as well. This would make the slot receiver covered. (This is shown in the images above)
Essentially a covered receiver is an eligible receiver on the line of scrimmage who is not on the outside of the formation. If you are on the line of scrimmage as a wide receiver you cannot have another receiver lined up outside you on the line of scrimmage as well.
Why Is It Illegal
The idea behind this rule is that eligible receivers on the line of scrimmage will line up on the outside of the formation thus making them uncovered. This way a receiver cannot start to run a route out of the middle of the formation.
By having a set number of players allowed on the line of scrimmage the defense is able to identify which players are receivers and which players are blockers.
If each player lined up on the line of scrimmage in the middle of the formation and then ran down the field this would be nearly impossible for the defense to cover. This is because they will not be able to identify which players in the formation are receivers.
By having clearly stated rules regarding where receivers can line up the defense will be able to key in on who they have to cover.
What Is The Penalty For Covering A Receiver?
The penalty for covering a receiver is an illegal formation. An illegal formation penalty is a five-yard penalty and does not incur a loss of a down.
These penalties are relatively rare and in most cases occur when one of the receivers makes a mental mistake.
If multiple receivers on the same side of the formation line up on the line of scrimmage then one of them has made a mistake.
Oftentimes the officials may even make a comment to the receiver that he needs to be off the line in order to make the formation legal.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to understanding what it means when a receiver is covered up.